BANGKOK, Thailand -- China's government sent more than one million
majority ethnic Han Chinese to live uninvited in the homes of minority
Uighur families in Xinjiang province and report if the Muslims display
Islamic or unpatriotic beliefs which need to be forcibly reformed.

"Had a Uighur host just greeted a neighbor in Arabic with the words
'Assalamu Alaykum'? That would need to go in the notebook," and
reported to China's authorities, said American anthropologist Darren

"Was that a copy of the Koran in the home? Was anyone praying on
Friday or fasting during Ramadan? Was a little sister's dress too long
or a little brother's beard irregular? And why was no one playing
cards or watching movies?" Mr. Byler said, describing traditional
Muslim behavior which China's civilian monitors added to the dossiers.

Mr. Byler's 5,500-word investigative research was published by New
York-based Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations on October

About two weeks after publication, the ruling Chinese Communist Party
newspapers Global Times and People's Daily confirmed Mr. Byler's

"Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has implemented
the pairing and assistance program between officials and the ethnic
minority citizens to promote communication and interaction among
different ethnic groups in Xinjiang," Global Times reported on
November 7.

According to statistics published by People's Daily, as of September
2018, "some 1.1 million civil servants have paired up with more than
1.69 million ethnic minority citizens, especially village residents,"
Global Times said.

The "pairing" program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Informants who lived uninvited in Uighurs' homes regarded themselves
"as relatives" and included officials from "the central government and
military departments, including the Xinjiang Production and
Construction Corps and Xinjiang Armed Police Corps [who] have made
over 49 million visits to local residents," the People's Daily
statistics revealed, according to Global Times.

Mr. Byler said in his report:

"This spring, as an anthropologist returning to a province where I had
spent two years researching Han and Uighur social life, I met and
interviewed Han civilian state workers in predominantly Uighur urban
districts and towns across southern Xinjiang.

"Over my time there and in conversations online, both before and after
my visit, I spoke to around a dozen people about the experiences of
[government-appointed Chinese] 'big sisters and brothers' in Uighur
and Kazakh homes. They ranged from civilian surveillance workers who
performed these visits themselves, to friends and family members of
these surveillance workers.

"Some of these people were Han friends that I first built
relationships with in 2011 when I began my fieldwork in Urumchi," the
capital of Xinjiang province, said Mr. Byler who received a Ph.D. from
the University of Washington's anthropology department in 2018.

"Others, primarily friends and family members of those directly
involved in the program, were acquaintances I made outside of China.
Still others were people I met in Urumchi and Kashgar [Xinjiang’s
second-largest city] in 2018."

More than one million monitors lived and ate with targeted Uighur
families for one week.

An additional 110,000 monitors lived in Uighur homes for 90 days while
other monitors stayed in "sensitive villages" for more than 10 months,
he said.

"Visit the People, Benefit the People, and Bring Together the Hearts
of the People!" is the program's official slogan.

Monitors tried to ingratiate themselves as "relatives" even though
everyone knew the "indoctrination and surveillance" program was
hunting for perceived "terrorism, separatism, and religious

Muslims deemed suspicious were reported to authorities who would
usually force them into prison-like "counter-extremism training
centers" and other facilities which Beijing insists are benevolent
"vocational training centers."

Mr. Byler said "the mobilization of more than a million Chinese
civilians -- most members of the Han ethnic majority -- [was] to aid
the military and police in their campaign by occupying the homes of
the region's Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, and undertaking
programs of indoctrination and surveillance, while presenting
themselves as older siblings of the men and women they might then
decide to consign to the camps."

Adults and their children had to answer any questions the monitors
asked about their personal life, religious beliefs, patriotism, and
similar activities of their relatives, friends and neighbors.

To trick Uighurs into dropping their guard, a monitor would "offer a
host a cigarette or a sip of beer," because devout Muslims avoid
smoking and alcohol.

"A hand could be extended in greeting to a little sibling of the
opposite gender, staying alert for signs of flinching," because Muslim
females are often taught not to shake a male stranger's hand.

Chinese monitors "could go out to the market for some freshly ground
meat, and propose that the family make dumplings. And then wait and
watch to see if the Uighurs would ask what kind of meat was in the
bag," because most Muslims shun pork.

More than 10 million Uighurs live in northwest China's resource-rich
Xinjiang province, which is about five times the size of Germany, and
many speak a Turkic language.

Smoldering demands for independence, and the appearance of a tiny
number of China's Uighurs allegedly fighting as Islamist insurgents in
the Middle East, have stoked fears in Beijing.

In 2014, about 200,000 Chinese Communist party members began arriving
in Xinjiang for "long-term stays" in Uighur villages, Mr. Byler said.

Two years later, an additional 110,000 civil servants began "90-day
stays" in the "homes of Uighurs whose family members had been
imprisoned or killed by the police."

The newest escalation began in 2017 when more than one million
civilians imposed themselves for week-long home stays, "often focusing
on the extended family of those who had been detained in the
drastically-expanded 'transformation through education' program."

Monitors are instructed to say "they have been monitoring all internet
and cell phone communication that is coming from the family, so they
should not even think about lying when it comes to their knowledge of
Islam and religious extremism," Mr. Byler said.

During his research, the anthropologist discovered some monitors
considered themselves altruistic servants helping impoverished,
misinformed people realize the error of their ways so Xinjiang would
become patriotic and prosperous.

Many Muslims who suffered the surveillance said they felt
"infantilized and stripped of their dignity" because the program
"undermined the authority of Uighur parents and destroyed families,"
he said.

Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee
of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political
Consultative Conference in Beijing, told Global Times: "The pairing
and assistance program has been implemented for two years, which is a
successful practice for Xinjiang."